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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Controversy Surrounding Laptops in the Classroom

As students at the University of Massachusetts Boston, many of us commute to get to school. With that commute comes a bag on our backs weighed down to the point of sagging with paperweight-in-training textbooks. These are the same textbooks we’ll be selling off—gladly—to the next student once the semester ends.

In a world where e-books are rapidly replacing physical books, many of us are using laptops, tablets, or phones to access our information when applicable.

Some professors would rather not see an electronic device in their classrooms. Unless, of course, a student with a learning disability absolutely needs it. Except, then, the privilege of having the electronic singles them out.

When it comes to using electronic devices in the classroom, there will always be two types of students: the ones who use their laptops responsibly and only take notes during class, and the ones who use their laptops to do everything else under the sun *but* take class notes. They are just lost in their own little world.

Here’s the thing: there will always be people out there doing and using things the wrong way, no matter what we do. Isn’t banning the use of electronic devices in the classroom a form of punishing the students who know how to use the devices in a responsible way?

Should we continue using laptops in the classroom to take notes?

Some studies suggest that using a laptop in the classroom results in lower grades for the student. And, to a point, even the surrounding students are distracted by the one student using an electronic device. An article from the New York Times written by Susan Dynarski on Nov. 22 explains one particular case study from researchers in a series of experiments at Princeton University and the University of California, Los Angeles.

From this study, researchers hypothesized that students may be tempted to simply write what the professor is saying verbatim without stopping long enough for their brains to process the words. Students who write by hand need to digest the information first, then write down the results of the digestion. In a way, they don’t need to keep up with what the professor is saying. They need to keep up with themselves at the rate they’re digesting the information.

Dynarski puts it more eloquently: “The notes of the laptop users more closely resembled transcripts than lecture summaries. The handwritten versions were more succinct but included the salient issues discussed in the lecture.”

However, in a reactionary response to this, an article titled “Inside Higher Ed,” written by John Warner, points out a glaring issue many studies fail to address. Yes, laptops can be harmful to the learning environment of a student, but what about grades? Next to zero research is being done to support the “efficacy” of grades. But it’s assumed grades are needed. Grades, or a numerical system assigned to a student’s ability to learn, aren’t going to get banned from the classroom anytime soon. Grades can be far more damaging to a student than the impact of a laptop in a classroom. Be that as it may, a student will go out of their way for a good grade regardless of whether they bring their laptop to class.

I think that every student learns differently. It is up to you to figure out your habits and use your judgment in how well you study and use your notes. If you do need the “transcrip” version of a lecture, all phones have recording options through which you can listen to the talk later. Don’t forget to ask the professor for permission to record the lecture, either!

And, if you’re more of an old school pen-and-paper type, nothing is stopping you from taking notes that way. One reformation is to then snap a photo of those handwritten notes and put them in a virtual folder for later use. The fear of losing your notes is now gone.

If you care about getting your money’s worth and doing your best to get the best grades, you will figure out yourself what’s best for you when it comes to studying and learning over time.